Why Positive Feedback?

August 6, 2020

In my work as a leadership coach I work with Millennials who often complain they don’t receive enough positive feedback from their supervisors. I also work with leaders in their 40s and 50s who claim their younger direct reports continually crave recognition for a job well done.

Is the desire for positive feedback contributing to confirmation bias, looking to confirm what they already believe: they are a good performer in the workplace? And is this perhaps a symptom or result of what social media has created? Or is it merely related to a lack of confidence that they will grow out of as they mature in their careers?

For those reluctant to provide such positive feedback, are they preventing the opportunity to bring out the best in their employees? Do they believe delivering such comments is unnecessary and maybe even destructive? Or are they holding back because they didn’t receive it earlier in their own careers?

Regular feedback is important for anyone in order to understand what they are doing well and what they are doing not so well. It is also vital to know what to continue doing, what to stop doing, and what to start doing. This is integral to one’s growth and development whatever the job, and it shouldn’t be delivered only in awkward annual performance reviews.

Leaving out regular positive feedback is just as bad as leaving out regular critical feedback.

As I wrote in a post two years ago, what provides true satisfaction in the workplace is not the salary, job title, or other external expressions of worth, but whether or not the person feels valued by their manager, their peers and by the company as a whole. Conveying this appreciation costs you and the company nothing.

So why are leaders reluctant to dish out more compliments for a job well done and for the value they see their employees delivering?

It could be many are perfectionists believing there is always room for improvement and therefore little reason to praise. Some may be more intrinsically motivated and believe others should be as well. These leaders do their job because they gain satisfaction without the need for external rewards or recognition. Salary and regular promotions should be enough.

But are they?

Research has found that people often leave a company due to a bad manager. When employees find their direct supervisor doesn’t believe in and express the value they see in them, they seek greener (not necessarily based on dollars) pastures. This is bad for organizations as it leads to lower motivation, lower productivity and higher turnover.

In order to provide more positive feedback with the motivation needed to feel valued in the workplace, leaders can modify their approach in the following ways:

Catch employees doing things right

Provide positive comments in the moment. Don’t hold back your compliments until the end of the year. Instead, find ways to encourage individuals when you see them doing something particularly well. A little goes a long way.

Normalize positive feedback

In your regular one-on-one meetings, be sure to point out where you think the individual did something particularly well or worked especially hard since the last meeting. Don’t make a big deal about it, simply make a habit of stating your recognition of the value they bring.

Celebrate incremental victories for the individual or team

Don’t wait until the end of the year to celebrate overall performance. Provide praise at milestones and recognize individual contributions publicly. This simple recognition goes a long way towards people feeling valued by you and the organization.

None of this will matter, of course, unless you are sincere in your behavior. Your intended audience will sense a lack of genuine sincerity and your efforts will be wasted. Make your appreciation behaviorally specific and make it meaningful. This positive feedback will help provide the recognition necessary to bring out the best in your employees.

Wanted: Authoritative Leaders

July 27, 2020

Authoritative leadership is especially important now because so many organizations are aimlessly adrift due to the health risks and economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and heightened focus on racial inequality. We need leaders who understand that these are things that require inspiring everyone to collectively do their part.

A year ago I wrote a post titled “Authoritarian vs. Authoritative Leadership” and it became one of my mostly widely read blog posts. Perhaps this is a sign of the times when so many are interested to read about the rise of authoritarian leaders around the world.

I now want to expand on the authoritative leadership style as I think this is one to model in both business and politics—especially at this point in time.

Authoritative leaders, according to Daniel Goleman, are those who use a “come along with me” approach to leading others. They point a direction or describe a vision, and then provide the freedom and confidence in those who follow to determine the best means to achieve it.  Goleman says this style of leadership is especially important when a business is adrift—when organizations require the leader to set a new course and inspire people to help reach it.

The authoritative leader engages the energy of individuals to accomplish organizational goals and admit that they don’t have all the answers. They point the direction on what needs to be achieved and trusts the individuals to collectively determine the best approach for getting there. Authoritative leaders inspire enthusiasm and build the confidence of the entire team.

According to Goleman, the authoritative style of leading provides a high level of clarity, commitment and flexibility to keep people motivated and successful. Examples of some authoritative leaders include Bill Gates, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Clarity

The authoritative leader is able to clearly articulate a vision and motivate each individual to contribute to that organizational vision. People feel inspired when they are able to see that what they do really matters, and this brings about greater productivity. This clarity of vision contributes greatly to becoming a reality.

Commitment

The commitment authoritative leaders demonstrate comes through when they are able to define the standards on how individual actions lead to success. Performance feedback can then directly point back to these previously defined standards and on whether the individual met or did not meet expectations.

Flexibility

Flexibility in how one does the work is extremely empowering. This is about allowing people to experiment, innovate and take on calculated risks. It is about allowing for occasional mistakes with optimal learning and improvement. Authoritative leaders state the goal and enable people the flexibility to best determine the means to reach that goal.

An authoritative leadership style for some may mean letting go of the “command and control” of coercive or authoritarian leadership. If the ship is literally sinking and the person in charge is best able to save it, then by all means be that coercive leader. Most of the time and especially now, coercive leadership is inappropriate.  

Instead, we need leaders who are able to articulate a compelling vision as well as embrace the collective intelligence, talents and abilities of those around them to bring it to fruition. This means the CEO is able to bring along her leadership team to execute on the strategy most effectively. It means a government leader is able to recognize that a pandemic and social unrest cannot be wished or commanded away, but requires the best science and collective intelligence to do the hard work and make the sacrifices necessary to achieve safety, stability and meaningful change.

The authoritative style may not be appropriate in all situations, but it is one that works most of the time and is perhaps necessary more now than ever.

Questions for 21st Century Leaders

July 14, 2020

To lead effectively requires many competencies. To be a great leader in the 21st century means you are also looking further out, valuing the diversity of thought, and are brave enough to let go of your tried and true assumptions.

Roselinde Torres, senior partner and managing director at Boston Consulting Group, found that performance reviews, leadership development programs, hiring practices and executive coaching just aren’t working well enough anymore. Many companies continue to fail, fall behind and are simply unable to succeed.

In her widely-watched TED Talk “What it Takes to be a Great Leader,” Torres reported her findings on what successful leaders are doing. She says leadership in the 21st century is defined and evidenced by three essential questions: 1) Where are you looking to anticipate change? 2) How diverse is your network? 3) Are you courageous enough to abandon the past?

As an executive coach focused on leadership development, I thought I’d delve into each of these questions with a take on what I’ve witnessed in my practice and some potential action steps forward.  

Where are you looking to anticipate change?

In 1995 Bill Gates anticipated the impact of the Internet to completely redirect and refocus the company’s efforts in order to keep Microsoft on track. In 2007 Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix, moved his company from shipping DVDs via the mail to streaming movies, TV shows and original content to now reach more than 180 million subscribers worldwide.

Did you anticipate this year’s popularity and support for the Black Lives Matter movement? How will this widespread support change how you hire and promote people of color? What other cultural or consumer trends are you noticing beyond the scope of your business that will have an impact on it? What will be the next big change that impacts your business: meaningful action on climate change, regulation to reduce income inequality, health care reform?

For you to anticipate what’s coming, you need to make a practice of looking beyond where you usually look and what your usually do. This is about adaptive leadership to anticipate what’s coming and respond with agility as the business environment changes.

How diverse is your network?

I know of several companies where diversity in boardrooms rarely extends beyond including women. The same could be said for those in the C-suite. How about your professional network? Does it include people who look, speak, act and, most importantly, think differently than you? If not, I suspect you are limiting your ability to lead effectively as your employees, vendors, customers and community represents more than those similar to you.

When I joined a professional organization a couple years ago, I was disappointed that it was dominated by middle-aged white men. My goal is to find ways to add more women and people of color so we’re adding to the conversation rather than limiting it.

Diversity in professional networks enable us to move beyond confirmation bias, which is so prevalent in our chosen news sources and social media feeds. Studies have repeatedly shown that adding diverse opinions and perspectives to the conversation leads to better decisions. By increasing the diversity in those we reach out to for advice and counsel, we will expand our understanding and challenge our assumptions. Both will serve us in leading into the future.

Are you courageous enough to abandon the past?

We are all creatures of habit, especially when these habits have served us so well in the past. It’s hard to let go of what’s worked previously because of the confidence you have in it. But if continuing to do so is no longer effective, it’s time to let go and move on to something else.

This requires curiosity and a beginner’s mind so that you can find solutions that would otherwise remain hidden. Adopt a lifelong learning perspective to read beyond the business journals and books everyone else is reading. Seek out new conversations and develop relationships with different people.

Make the time and summon the courage to challenge your thinking. Try new approaches that requires breaking out of what you have done in the past that is no longer suitable for the present. Your resistance to risk may prevent you from reaching success.

To be a successful leader in the 21st century you can no longer rely on the tried and true methods of yesterday. It’s time to shift your mindset and respond to Torres’ three questions in a way that raises your leadership competency to what is required today and in the future.

Moving from Equality to Equity

June 30, 2020

Most Americans, I suspect, believe in equal opportunity more than equal outcome. This means providing a level playing field, so everyone has the opportunity to reach their goals if they put in the necessary work. Yet without equity, we don’t have a level playing field.

Huge advantages persist in the United States for being white, male, heterosexual, college-educated and having been raised in a financially-secure family. I have no idea what percent of the current US population this demographic represents, but I’d be surprised if it were more than 20%. However, if I were to guess at the make-up of those in power—both in business and government—I’d guess this demographic is closer to 80%.

Decision-making is enhanced when diversity of opinion is included. The best decisions are made when minority views are taken into account and we encourage the silent voices in the room. A leader can become aware of issues and concerns that upon first glance may not be noticed. Great leaders know this and seek to be challenged by them rather than back away.

Corporations are unlikely to have a diverse make-up of executives in the C-suite unless their boards of directors include such diversity. Businesses should therefore hire and promote more women and people of color into board seats as well as executive and senior leadership roles. Their presence mean companies will be more representative of the people they serve: employees, customers, suppliers, shareholders and the surrounding community.

When companies claim they can’t find qualified applicants representing women or people of color, perhaps they are not looking in the right places. Are they recruiting from colleges and universities that primarily serve this demographic? Do they offer training and leadership development programs to all employees equally? Though their policies may claim this, how does it show up in the diversity of those being promoted?

Those in government should also represent the overall make-up of the population they serve. Yet gerrymandering, voter suppression and the Citizens United decision certainly provide representatives the opportunity to choose their voters rather than voters choosing their representatives. And while the 116th Congress is the most racially and ethnically diverse group ever, this still represents just one-in-five in the House of Representatives and Senate. And the overwhelming majority of these representatives are Democrats (90%), while just 10% are Republicans.

I’m not advocating for taking away rights of straight white males of which I count myself as a member, but I am saying there needs to be more equity in how we educate, hire, promote and lead in all areas of society. This means providing equity, so everyone has a fair shot at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We need to move beyond seeking equality and look for equity instead. Equity acknowledges this is not a level playing field. Equity is not antithetical to capitalism, nor to freedom. Equity is about providing fairness to all. Equity is especially important in this time of protesting systemic racial injustice because it gets closer to root of the problem. Until black lives matter, all lives can’t matter.

Equity provides support or assistance based on specific needs or abilities. It’s not entirely about race or gender as it is about fairness due to your particular situation. Obviously many programs have so far failed to provide this, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon seeking to make them successful. It wasn’t the aim of the programs that failed, but the execution of implementing many of them. This can and should be corrected.

And moving from equality to equity will bring us closer to reaching the moral standard our country should continually strive to live up to.

Empathy in Leadership

May 1, 2020

Leaders who demonstrate empathy are more effective than those who don’t. This is because empathy can help leaders raise engagement, increase loyalty, and ultimately convey their humanity, which makes them more approachable and able to be influenced.

Empathy helps convey that you are able to identify the feeling another has, touch that feeling yourself, and offer to help the other person deal with that feeling or situation. Empathy enables connection like nothing else because it provides the receiver of this empathetic response to feel truly heard.

Unlike sympathy, which is about sharing the feelings of another, empathy is about being able imagine what it might be like to have those feelings. It is about understanding and putting oneself into the other’s position. This helps people connect far more than sympathy.

In politics we’ve witnessed many examples of previous Presidents expressing empathy. For example, President Reagan capture the emotions of the country with his eulogy to the crew of the space shuttle Challenger after it exploded. President Clinton channeled the country’s grief after the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. President G. W. Bush shed tears and hugs with families of those killed on Sept. 11, 2001. President Obama openly wept after the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. It’s hard to think of an example for President Trump, who I have yet to witness demonstrate empathy.

In business there is great opportunity for leaders to demonstrate empathy during this Covid-19 pandemic. It can be done by finding creative ways to serve customers more compassionately. It can be demonstrated through the shared sacrifice a company chooses in reducing the number of layoffs by cutting back salaries for senior executives and removing some benefits for every employee. It can be done in the way they conduct their business to employees, customers, shareholders and the surrounding community.  

Business leaders who demonstrate empathy:

  • Enable people to feel safe with failures as they are not simply blamed for them
  • Look to understand the root cause behind poor performance
  • Help struggling employees improve themselves
  • Enable the opportunity to influence and be influenced by others
  • Build and develop relationships with those they lead

Empathy should also be viewed as a data gathering tool to help you understand the human environment in which you operate your business. This data can then enable you to make better predictions, determine appropriate tactics, inspire loyalty and communicate clearly.

It can play a powerful role in how well you are able to influence others. This begins with warmth you project in your interactions as a way to help build rapport and trust. Empathy means you choose to actively listen, so others feel heard based on the behavior they see you demonstrate. And the compassion you convey through your empathy brings about a deep and lasting connection. Embracing and demonstrating empathy towards others greatly enhances your ability to influence them effectively. And this is absolutely necessary in order to lead others.

The best leaders are those who lead with empathy. This is needed more than ever during this pandemic and in the challenging months ahead.

Executive Presence in a Virtual Environment

April 14, 2020

Leaders demonstrate executive presence in the way they show up. This is hard enough to do in a conference room, but much more challenging in a video conferencing environment.

Executive presence can mean different things to different people, but it is generally about demonstrating self-confidence, clarity and credibility. When one has it, they are perceived as polished, poised and prepared. Beyond their overall competence and expertise, their executive presence reveals leadership.

Other elements of executive presence may be things such as:

  • People notice when you enter a room
  • People find you likeable, trustworthy and want to build relationships with you
  • You are perceived as important and respected
  • You ask timely, relevant and thought-provoking questions
  • You are socially aware and able to read the emotional field in a room
  • You relate equally well with people throughout the organization
  • You are fully engaged and make people feel important

Now that many business leaders are forced to conduct business in a virtual environment due to Covid-19, it’s important to practice leadership presence behaviors that can help overcome this obstacle. Given that you are likely to be doing more and more via video conferencing, it’s important to find ways to optimize your overall executive presence.

Here are suggestions to best demonstrate your executive presence in a virtual environment:

Visual Representation – Fill the frame with your head and shoulders to show you are fully present. When speaking, look directly into the camera like an actor or newscaster as you will appear to be speaking more directly to others. Ensure there is adequate lighting in front of you to fully illuminate your face and be mindful of what is behind you, so it isn’t distracting. Dress similarly to how you would at work, so you look and feel like you’re in a working frame of mind. Don’t get distracted and attempt to multitask as this will be magnified when others are watching you in this environment.

Audio Representation – Talk with a bit more volume as if you are speaking in a large conference room. Your voice will more likely come across as authoritative, confident and credible. Actively listen so that others feel heard by leaning in, nodding and paraphrasing or asking good follow-up questions. When you’re not speaking, ensure you are muted if there’s any potential for distracting noises, such as kids or pets. And don’t forget to unmute yourself before begin speaking.

Leverage Technology – Take advantage of the technology in Microsoft Teams, Zoom Meeting or others by using the chat window to provide useful links to other resources that can elevate the discussion. This will further demonstrate your credibility by expanding the conversation beyond what is directly discussed. Closely watch the people in the video windows and seek understanding when you see strong reactions to what is being said. This can help reveal your empathy for others and strengthening all relationships.

It’s important to first acknowledge that your executive presence is being compromised in this virtual environment. Then accept that even after this pandemic, we are likely to be using video conferencing more and more often. Take the steps listed above to show up in a way that best demonstrates your executive presence, so you continue to rise in your leadership in spite of the environment you find yourself in.

Crisis Reveals True Character

March 15, 2020

We are living at a time with a devastating pandemic in the form the COVID-19 virus, and leaders have the opportunity to rise to the occasion and take the necessary steps to protect people and the economy. Or they can shun that responsibility, blame others and ineffectively address the problem. President Donald Trump is doing the latter and it’s dangerous for all of us.

“I don’t take responsibility at all.” This was the response Trump provided when asked at a recent press conference with regard to the lack of widespread testing being available. He had spent the previous two weeks downplaying the virus, even calling it a hoax. Then he blamed the previous administration for its response to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, even though the death rate of .02 percent was far lower than even the lowest fatality rate for the coronavirus up to this point.    

He also denied that he played a role in dissolving the National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense in 2018, and repeatedly pointed to others, including those at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as responsible.

This lack of responsibility, of course, is nothing new in this President. What’s new is that this is his first major crisis impacting all Americans, and he is failing in dramatic fashion. The number of Americans who will die from this disease is unknown, but certainly will rise considerably in the coming weeks. The lasting effects on our economy will be felt for months if not years.

Windows & Mirrors

In Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, he wrote that great leaders look out the window to give credit to others when things go well. They rarely seek to take credit themselves and instead go out of their way to recognize others who contributed to the results. And when mistakes happen, the best leaders point towards the mirror and take responsibility.

As we all know by now, President Trump spends far too much time looking into mirrors admiring what he wants to see and seeking only further recognition from those he surrounds himself with. He is constantly blaming others (Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Democrats, the deep state and, of course, fake news) for anything that appears wrong. When he looks out the window, he is only looking for confirmation of him being responsible for all that is going well and others for things not going well. This window is typically in the form of Fox News, which is telling him not only what he wants to hear but often directing him on what to do.

We are living in perilous times. We have a national emergency on our hands and an inept leader to help us navigate it safely.

According to the World Economic Forum, in a 2018 report on countries who were most prepared for an epidemic or pandemic, the United States was considered number one. The report stated health security is a collective responsibility. In the same way the US can’t go it alone on climate change, we cannot be effective on our own protecting people from dangerous viruses.

If we are to respond adequately to the many challenges of the 21st century, they cannot be resolved by individual countries acting separately. We need leadership that understands that only when we work together can we address worldwide challenges. And we need a president who has the character that demonstrates they can take responsibility when things go wrong on his or her watch.

Ask and Thou Will Succeed

February 12, 2020

In today’s workplace people are often reluctant to ask for the information they need to be most productive. Failure to ask could be explained for many reasons, but it needs to change in order for individuals as well as organizations to be successful.

Research shows that employees failing to share knowledge effectively costs Fortune 500 companies $31.5 billion every year! This lack of knowledge sharing can be due to: no clear methodology or forum, little to no examples demonstrated by leadership, the assumed expectation that we are supposed to know everything. Or perhaps it is due to the mistaken belief that the specific knowledge is somehow not available within the organization.

The knowledge and information we seek is very often available from our colleagues, but we assume it is not. Many companies have built up silos that restrict the very cross-pollination necessary to solve big problems. Some employees withhold knowledge and information because they believe it makes them more powerful. And many people are competing internally for resources, promotions, status, etc. But to what end?

When you reduce internal competition and increase cross-collaboration, the company wins. To encourage this, those who work effectively together should be rewarded rather than those who, for whatever reason, stand in the way. This seems like a no-brainer, but we can all think of many examples where it isn’t the case.

What needs to change? The most important thing is to create a culture where asking questions and asking for help should be celebrated rather than frowned upon. This means encouraging those who do speak up and ask for what they need. Leaders should set an example by asking more questions and demonstrating through their own vulnerability that they need assistance from others.

Amy Edmondson, professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School, says leaders need to acknowledge their own fallibility, and model curiosity through asking lots of questions. Edmondson says to frame the work as learning problems instead of execution problems.

“It’s critical to understand that help rarely arrives un-asked for,” according to Wayne Baker, author of All You Have to Do is Ask: How to Master the Most Important Skill for Success. “In fact, studies have shown that as much as 90 percent of the help that is provided in the workplace occurs only after requests for help are made.” And research shows that people who regularly seek advice and help from knowledgeable colleagues are actually rated more favorably by supervisors than those who never seek advice and help.

It’s also critical to normalize mistakes. According to Baker, in the start-up world of high-tech companies, there is often the mantra of “fail fast.” The focus is on normalizing mistakes and viewing iteration as a necessity for continuous learning.

Many companies are looking for models to encourage asking questions and have adopted Reciprocity Rings, which are dynamic group exercises focused on the “pay-it-forward” principle. This enables people to get the information they need and solve problems, while energizing the group and creating stronger, more trusting relationships. Reciprocity Rings are used in the top business schools and corporations such as Deloitte, Dow, Goldman Sachs and Google.

No matter how your organization goes about encouraging employees to ask for what they need, it needs to happen. A company’s success depends upon its employees’ ability to efficiently ask for and obtain knowledge and information in order to solve problems. Creating a space that normalizes this behavior and breaks down the walls of information silos is critical for success of both individuals and their companies.

Gaslighting a Nation

January 20, 2020

The current President of the United States is gaslighting our nation. I never thought I would write these words, but the fact is Donald Trump uses lies, denials, manipulation and confusion in order to rule over this great country.

Though this post veers from the usual discussion of leadership in the corporate sense, I think there is an overlap between the behavior of leaders in politics and in business. In fact, our political leaders often demonstrate a model by which leaders of all organizations can choose to follow . . . or not. In the case of Donald Trump, they should not.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation and is used to sow doubt in individuals or groups so they question their memory, perception or sanity. It is a common technique used by abusers, narcissists, cult leaders and dictators. The behavior attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s beliefs.  

In her book Gaslighting: Recognizing Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People – and Break Free author Stephanie Sarkis describes gaslighting techniques, including:

  • Tell blatant lies – By telling big blatant lies we’re never sure if anything they say is true. Trump has told more than 15,000 lies, misstatements or fabrications since taking the oath of office to uphold the constitution and protect this country.
  • Deny they said something even though there’s proof – Denying continually can make us question our own reality—even when we know what we saw or heard. And when we question our own reality, we often begin to accept theirs.
  • Wear you down over time – Gaslighting is done gradually so that even the brightest and most self-aware can be sucked in over time. Like the proverbial frog in the pot of water, we don’t realize we’re being cooked until it can be too late.
  • Actions don’t match their words – Saying things that don’t align with behavior is a clear indication of being disingenuous. Trump has masterfully stated untrue things that are entirely inconsistent with his actions, and those who stand up to Trump are regularly denigrated by him; when the media doesn’t simply accept his words, it is demeaned as “fake news.”
  • They know confusion weakens people – By constantly questioning everything, gaslighters are able to uproot our sense of stability and normalcy. As a result, they can then be viewed as someone to make things more stable. Trump regularly uses fear as a way to maintain loyalty from followers.  

Gaslighting is not unique to Trump nor was he the first to exercise it on the American people. In his book State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind, psychologist Bryant Welch described the technique in American politics beginning with the age of modern communications:

“Gaslighting comes directly from blending modern communications, marketing, and advertising techniques with long-standing methods of propaganda. They were simply waiting to be discovered by those with sufficient ambition and psychological makeup to use them.”

Though the book was written in 2008, Welch was perhaps anticipating the use of social media and Cambridge Analytica as vehicles for the right person to take advantage of them. In Donald Trump we found someone with the necessary ambition and psychological makeup.

As a I write this, the U.S. Senate is about to begin an impeachment trial on whether to remove the 45th President from office. Senators are largely expected to vote along party lines regardless of what is discovered in the trial, which will lead to fewer than the necessary two-thirds.

This means that whether the American people continue to be gaslighted by their president will likely be determined in November. It’s clear that a significant number of Americans refuse this gaslighting premise and will therefore go along with voting to re-elect the President. But there may be enough who recognize what has taken over the Republican party and decide they cannot support this manipulation any longer.

My hope is that we reject this gaslighting and learn to heal ourselves and the nation.

Playing the Infinite Game

January 3, 2020

Running a business over the long-term requires looking beyond what’s good for shareholders to see what’s best for all the stakeholders. This requires seeing business not as a finite game of winners and losers, but as an infinite game where you get to choose how to play.

In the past 50 years it seems corporations have become the center of our capitalist society. Many have lobbyists to steer governmental policy decisions and some organizations even take part in helping to write many of the bills in Congress. Large businesses are often viewed as a barometer of our economic health, with their financial returns considered more important than the employees who work for them and the very customers they serve.

And while fewer than 20 percent of Americans invest in stocks, it seems strange to associate the Dow Jones industrial average with the overall health of our economy.

The Economic Policy Institute reported that in 1978 average CEO pay was 30 times the average worker, and by 2016 it had increased to 271 times the average worker’s pay. In fact, average CEO pay has increased at a rate 70 percent faster than the stock market!

Perhaps our over-reliance on the health of our corporations, including quarterly earnings focused on meeting Wall Street expectations and on over-compensating our CEOs, is not the best way to judge the economy or the state of workers in our society.  

“In a free-enterprise, private-property system, a corporate executive is an employee of the owners of the business,” wrote Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman in 1970. “He has direct responsibility to his employers. That responsibility is to conduct the business in accordance with their desires, which generally will be to make as much money as possible while conforming to the basic rules of the society, both those embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom.”

One wonders if maybe we’ve focused too much on Friedman’s notion of “make as much money as possible” and not nearly enough on the rules “embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom.” Too often there seems to be more emphasis on skirting the laws or finding ways to circumvent them—not to mention little if any focus on ethical considerations.

In Simon Sinek’s latest book, The Infinite Game, he suggests we need to replace Friedman’s definition with one that goes beyond profit and considers the dynamism and additional facets that make business work.

“The responsibility of business is to use its will and resources to advance a cause greater than itself, protect the people and places in which it operates and generate more resources so that it can continue doing all those things for as long as possible,” writes Sinek. “An organization can do whatever it likes to build its business so long as it is responsible for the consequences of its actions.”

He suggests that to increase the infinite value to our nation, economy and all companies, the responsibility of businesses must be to: 1) advance a purpose, 2) protect people, and 3) generate a profit. Sinek’s order of these is deliberate and important.

Advancing a purpose is about offering people a sense of belonging and the feeling that their lives and work have value beyond the work itself. In protecting people, companies should operate in a way that protects the people who work for it and buy from it, as well as the environment in which they live and work. And though money is the fuel for a business to remain viable, it should be used to continue to advance the first two priorities.

In this infinite mindset, Sinek sees a longer-term focus beyond merely making money. It is a perspective that enables companies to remain viable because it focuses on its employees and customers—the result of which is making a profit. The object of the infinite game is not to win, but to continue playing. When you run a business, you don’t win; you continue to play.  

“Where a finite-minded player makes products they think they can sell to people, the infinite-minded player makes product that people want to buy,” writes Sinek. “The former is primarily focused on how the sale of those products benefits the company; the latter is primarily focused on how the products benefit those who buy them.”

Sinek points to companies like Apple, Patagonia and Four Seasons as examples of companies that have embraced this infinite game mindset. So are other companies once they brought in a new leadership perspective, e.g., Ford under Alan Mulally and Microsoft under Satya Nadella.

This longer-term infinite game focus provides an environment beyond profit, and actually extends closer to Friedman’s notion of capitalism. A renewed focus on conforming to basic rules of society—both laws and ethical customs—may ultimately yield an economic model that serves not only CEOs and shareholders, but also workers, customers and the environment.

Perhaps this would be capitalism at its finest and make it more viable in the long term. And if capitalism truly benefited all stakeholders, maybe socialism wouldn’t be gaining traction by so many younger people as a viable alternative in this country.

Leading Effective Meetings

December 9, 2019

Those in leadership positions spend more time attending and leading meetings than perhaps any other activity throughout the workday. But how effective are these meetings?

More than 55 million meetings are held in organizations every day in the United States. The annual cost of these meetings (based on the average salaries of attendees) is $1.4 trillion! That’s a serious amount of money and it’s worth questioning to what degree meetings are a good investment.

“Too many meetings,” was the number one timewaster in the office and cited by 47 percent of 3,164 workers in a study conducted by Salary.com focused on workplace time drains. Microsoft surveyed nearly 40,000 people about productivity and work-related practices, and found that 69 percent of workers globally and 71 percent of workers in the US indicated that meetings were not productive.

Are meetings necessary? Absolutely. According to Steven Rogelberg in his book The Surprising Science of Meetings, “I would hazard to say that there is no single investment that organizations treat so carelessly, with so little evaluation or drive to improve, than meetings.”

Rogelberg says the benefits of meetings include:

  • Allow attendees to interpersonally connect with one another, which serves to build relationships, networks and support.
  • An ideal venue to bring together ideas, thoughts and opinions—things that should help each person perform his or her job in a better, more coordinated and cooperative manner.
  • Enable leaders and employees alike to create a shared understanding that promotes efficiency and teamwork.
  • Build commitment to goals, initiatives and broader aspirations that may not be explicitly stated in any individual job description, and that employees can see that they are part of something bigger than themselves.
  • Bring individuals together as a coherent whole, which can then be more adaptive, resilient and self-directing.

Leading effective meetings is clearly important, but how? Many things can be done such as reducing the standard length of meetings from 60 minutes to 50 minutes, something Google and PricewaterhouseCooper implemented so attendees have time between back-to-back meetings. Keep the number of attendees to eight or fewer, especially when trying to solve a problem or make a decision. Remove the chairs and have a stand-up meeting to keep it short, or have a walking meeting when there are few participants to stimulate idea generation.

Brainwriting is a technique to use silence as a way to generate and prioritize ideas beyond the loudest voices in the room. Silent Reading is common practice at Amazon where a detailed six-page document is provided and read by all attendees at the beginning of the meeting, which can then lead to a deeper discussion than presentations provide.

Meetings should be effective, yet there are no clear guidelines most organizations provide and follow. With that, I submit Rogelberg’s “Good Meeting Facilitation Checklist” in his book. This includes:

  • Time Management
    • Keep track of time and pace of meeting
    • Acknowledge emergent issues that warrants discussion or new meeting
    • Keep conversation moving forward
  • Active Listening
    • Model active listening and asking good questions
    • Clarify and summarize where things are and people’s input
    • Listen for underlying concerns and bring them forward
    • Ensure note-taker issues, actions and takeaways are recorded
  • Conflict Management
    • Encourage conflict around ideas and manage so that it benefits decision-making
    • Invite debate so that people feel comfortable respectfully disagreeing
    • Deal with disrespectful behavior quickly through re-direction and reminding attendees of ground rules
  • Ensuring Active Participation
    • Actively draw out input from those who are not contributing
    • Keep any attendee from dominating the conversation
    • Keep side conversations at bay
  • Pushing for Consensus
    • Test for agreement and consensus to get a sense of where attendees stand
    • Be willing to take the pulse of attendees to ensure process is working
    • Know when to intervene assertively and when to let the process run as it is
    • Be an honest broker of the conversation at hand, and work to remain impartial

Putting to use the above checklist when facilitating can result in your meetings being much more effective. Don’t let your attendees see your meetings as a waste of time. Instead, lead effective meetings that reflect well on you and achieve the results you’re looking for.

Thriving as a Generalist

November 11, 2019

In my experience the most successful leaders are those who are able to apply what they’ve specialized in learning to areas outside their particular domain of expertise. No one can be an expert at all things, so each of us needs to embrace a generalist mindset in order to thrive in our careers.

Getting a jump on others by specializing in a sport, musical instrument or field of study early in life was thought to be the pathway to success. Putting in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice meant you’d become proficient at whatever it is you chose to pursue. But is this really the best way to achieve success and satisfaction?

In the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, author David Epstein makes a convincing argument that early specialization in your field of study doesn’t necessarily ensure you’ll be successful or satisfied in your career.

By first comparing two very successful athletes, Epstein contends that while it may make sense to specialize early in some areas, this is not the case in most. He compares world-famous golfer Tiger Woods and world-famous tennis player Roger Federer. Both have been extremely successful, but while Woods was groomed for golf beginning when he was toddler, Federer tinkered in many sports and didn’t focus on tennis until he was 12.

Epstein suggests we currently overvalue specialists and undervalue generalists.

The value of early specialization is domain dependent. In chess, for example, it is hard to conceive of becoming a Grandmaster without playing the game from a fairly early age. Chess and golf provide what Epstein calls a kind learning environment. They provide immediate feedback loops because they are constrained situations and essentially repeating patterns.

It turns out the kinder the learning environment, the more amenable that particular domain is to both specialization and automation.

Today, nearly three-quarters of Americans work in a field other than one related to their major in college. And, at the same time, many college graduates are burdened with huge student loan debt without the benefit of an appropriate degree to help pay them off.

According to Epstein, students should be thought to think before being taught what to think about. So often students come prepared with scientific spectacles, but do not leave college carrying a scientific-reasoning Swiss Army knife. And it is this scientific-reasoning Swiss Army knife that is what is most necessary in creative problem-solving.

Jobs with tasks that are constrained and repetitive are the ones that will become automated through technology. On the other hand, people who can take conceptual knowledge from one area or domain and apply it to entirely new ones are those most likely to remain viable in the future job market.

This ability to apply knowledge more broadly comes from broad training. Deep analogical thinking requires recognizing conceptual similarities in multiple domains or scenarios that may seem to have little in common on the surface. Taking a number of liberal arts classes while pursuing a degree in computer science or molecular biology may be extremely important later in your career.

As a leadership coach, I find I continually remind clients that in order to grow their leadership capacity it is necessary to reach beyond their area of specific expertise and think more strategically about how their own area applies and impacts other parts of the business.

This more generalist perspective is necessary the higher one rises in any organization. To take up residence in the C-suite requires thinking strategically above and beyond your own area of expertise to help find the best organization-wide solutions. It is about collaborating with other functional leads to arrive at the best decisions for the overall business.

By applying a generalist mindset, you will thrive in your career and help benefit the entire organization.

Leading with Intention

October 13, 2019

Knowing what you want and how to get it is important as it provides the vision and roadmap for achieving results. But leading without intention, may prevent you from getting results for you as well as your team.

Intention is often defined as a mental state representing a commitment to carry out an action or actions in the future. Entering into this mental state is necessary as it provides the fuel required to act. And committing to something is vital for you to get from point A to point B.

This commitment can be kept internal only to you. For example, if you are looking to lose weight and exercise more, you may not need to communicate this to others. However, you may find that sharing this with others may, in fact, aid in your commitment and provide you with the external support you need to follow through.

Demonstrating your intention externally is important most of the time no matter what you choose to commit to. This is because when you communicate your intent to others, this clarity of purpose and the necessary motivation can convey the importance to others. And other people are often necessary to carrying out actions to achieve results.

As I wrote previously, using a turn signal when turning or changing lanes when driving provides a clear understanding to those around us regarding our intentions. Though you may think using turn signals is unimportant or optional, putting yourself in the position of other drivers can reinforce its importance.

If you operate without intention in the workplace, you may find people are confused, unmotivated or entirely disengaged in the actions you are looking to execute. The lack of clarity in your intent allows people to make up their own assumptions, which is never a good idea.

In leadership, the more intentional your behavior the more those around you are likely to respect and follow your lead. When they know the why behind your request, the more willingly they are to come along.

Benefits of leading with intention include:

  • Clearer Communication – When you state your intention directly, others will better understand why you are saying what you are saying. This knowledge of the why behind your what can be the difference between effective and ineffective leadership.
  • Motivated Employees – If you walk into a meeting with behavior, tone of voice and overall demeanor signaling you are clear in your intent, others will feel secure and motivated to follow where you want to take them.
  • Positive Corporate Culture – Intention is an essential part of motivating people to achieve results because it enables others to feel valued and trusted for what they bring to the workplace. Your intentional behavior models the standard for a corporate culture they want to be part of.

Leadership requires many behavioral attributes. Leading with intention means you provide a clarity of purpose that can inspire and motivate others to help carry out the actions needed to achieve your desired results. And that will make you a better leader.

Better, Faster Decision-Making

September 26, 2019

No matter your job title or the line of work you are in, you likely make decisions all the time. And you may believe you are applying a rational and objective approach to making those decisions. Further, that you are right in those decisions most of the time.

The trouble is, we have a tendency to overestimate our abilities in areas we know little about. We have cognitive biases we are unwilling to acknowledge. And we have limited attention spans. All of these add up to bad judgment when it comes to decision-making.

And our reluctance to track and reflect on past decisions only furthers the false assumption that we are actually good at making decisions. The reality is, as important as decision-making is, we don’t do it very well or very quickly.  

It turns out poor decision making can be attributed to nine different factors. These findings were the result of Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman of Zenger/Folkman, a leadership development consultancy. Their research, based on 360-feedback with 50,000 leaders, compared behaviors of those who were perceived with making poor decisions versus those who were perceived with making good decisions.

The nine habits are listed from most to least significant:

  • Laziness
  • Not anticipating unexpected events
  • Indecisiveness
  • Remaining locked in the past
  • Having no strategic alignment
  • Over-dependence
  • Isolation
  • Lack of technical depth
  • Failure to communicate the what, where, when and how associated with their decisions

Avoiding these pitfalls is one thing, but how do you ensure you are making better and faster decisions?

Erik Larson, CEO of Cleverpop, wrote an article titled “A Checklist for Making Faster, Better Decisions” in the Harvard Business Review. He suggests we can make better decisions by using best practices and technologies based on behavioral economics.

Larson recommends seven steps that can save an average of 10 hours of discussion, make decisions 10 days faster, and improve the outcomes of those decisions by 20%.

The seven steps are:

  1. Write down five preexisting company goals or priorities that will be impacted by the decision. Focusing on what is important will help you avoid the rationalization trap of making up reasons for your choices after the fact.
  2. Write down at least three, but ideally four or more, realistic alternatives. It might take a little effort and creativity, but no other practice improves decisions more than expanding your choices.
  3. Write down the most important information you are missing. We risk ignoring what we don’t know because we are distracted by what we do know, especially in today’s information-rich businesses.
  4. Write down the impact your decision will have one year in the future. Telling a brief story of the expected outcome of the decision will help you identify similar scenarios that can provide useful perspective.
  5. Involve a team of at least two but no more than six stakeholders. Getting more perspectives reduces your bias and increases buy-in—but bigger groups have diminishing returns.
  6. Write down what was decided, as well as why and how much the team supports the decision. Writing these things down increases commitment and establishes a basis to measure the results of the decision.
  7. Schedule a decision follow-up in one to two months. We often forget to check in when decisions are going poorly, missing the opportunity to make corrections and learn from what’s happened.

Larson’s research showed that businesses who used this checklist made 75% better decisions twice as fast, with half as many meetings, and 20% better performance.

Decision-making is one of the most important aspects of any leader. The effectiveness of it can be the difference between success and failure—both for you and your organization. Take the necessary time and practice to be more intentional and disciplined in your approach to making decisions. It will be well worth the effort.

Measuring Leadership Potential

September 11, 2019

Identifying high potential employees is an important and often difficult task. The difficulty is partially due to our methods for identifying and measuring leadership potential.

Using assessments to better understand employees and identify them has been done with success for many years. They can be used to help individuals see how different perspectives can provide diversity and creativity to teams in finding better solutions. These assessments can also assist in determining leadership potential.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, for example, is commonly used tool to identify one of 16 personality types in order to help people understand themselves in relation to others, and to learn how to work more cooperatively together. However, no one MBTI personality type is ideally suited for leadership.

The 9-Box Model is used to identify leadership performance and potential, though it should really only be used in combination with other methods. Managers can fairly accurately measure their people on performance because this is typically based on quantifiable metrics and whether or not the individual has met them. However, when it comes to potential, this is much more nuanced and difficult to accurately evaluate.

This is because leadership potential is less defined and less quantifiable. It also relies on predicting an individual’s future actions. And leadership potential is highly subjective making tools like the 9-Box Model difficult to rely on in isolation.

To accurately identify leadership potential requires defining exactly what that means for the organization and the individual, accounting for unconscious bias and reaching beyond one individual’s perspective.

Leadership Potential Defined

Leadership potential could be defined as one’s ability to adapt to challenges in spite of increasing complexity while maintaining proficiency with oneself and others. This may require a combination of aspiration, ability and engagement. Each organization needs to further refine this definition so it can be identified by everyone involved—both those doing the rating as well as those being measured by it. What are the values, attributes and behaviors that are unique to successful leaders in your particular organization?

Floor vs. Ceiling Perspective

Women may be more susceptible to unconscious bias, which can undermine identification of their leadership potential. Research has shown that when being considered for a promotion, women are more likely to be evaluated based on their contribution rather than their potential. Meanwhile, men are more likely to be evaluated based on their potential than on what they’ve contributed. Without direct intent, it may be more about the ceiling when it comes to men and more about the floor with women.

Remove the Single Story

Though we may try to see others from an objective perspective, it is difficult if not impossible to do so. Too often we create a Single Story rather than welcoming multiple stories when it comes to how we see others. Having multiple points of view can lead to a better understanding of the world as it really it. This “balance of stories” provides a much deeper and more accurate view of people. That’s why 360-Feedback can be so effective in better understanding how people show up in the workplace.

Identifying leadership potential can be made easier if you are able to ensure accuracy in your measurement. This requires defining exactly what leadership potential means for your organization, recognizing and accounting for unconscious bias and reaching beyond one individual’s perspective to gain multiple points of view. Once you have this in place, then and only then, choose an appropriate assessment model to assist you further.

Building Self-Awareness in Teams

August 9, 2019

Qualities critical for workplace success include emotional intelligence, empathy, influence, persuasion, communication and collaboration. All of which stem from self-awareness. And self-awareness in teams can make them more efficient, effective, innovative and rewarding to be a part of.

As I’ve written previously, this highly developable skill is perhaps the most important element for leadership. Research has shown that knowing who we are and how others see us is foundational to strong leadership, smart decisions and lasting relationships. However, it seems the higher one rises in leadership, the less likely they are to be self-aware.

And becoming self-aware yourself is essential before you can build self-awareness in your team.

“If being individually self-aware means understanding who you are and how others see you, a self-aware team commits to that same understanding at a collective level,” says Tasha Eurich, organizational psychologist and author of the excellent book Insight: the surprising truth about how others see us, how we see ourselves, and why the answers matter more than we think.

“With the right approach and a true ongoing commitment, you can foster a culture that encourages communication and feedback at all levels,” says Eurich. “One where honesty trumps hierarchy and even the lowest-ranking member feels safe putting problems on the table.”

To build self-awareness in your team, Eurich points to what she calls the three building blocks a leader must put in place. Prior to this, the team must already have a clear and compelling direction. “If a team doesn’t know where it’s headed, they are missing the ‘because’ of self-awareness,” explains Eurich.

The three building blocks are:

A Leader Who Models the Way

  • Make a commitment to your team’s self-awareness by starting with your own. When you as a leader demonstrate authenticity, team members learn to follow along in their interactions as well.
  • Engage in a leader feedback process to provide insight into your leadership, communication and well-being. This vulnerable exercise truly demonstrates to the team your commitment to transparency and own growth.

The Safety and Expectation to Tell the Truth

  • Provide the psychological safety to enable everyone the acceptance to ask one another for help, admit mistakes and raise tough issues. This requires not only trust, but also vulnerability.
  • Create clear set of norms. For example: What behaviors will help you achieve your strategy? What do you need to do to make this a safe and supportive team?

An Ongoing Commitment and Process to Stay Self-Aware

  • Candor challenge. Begin with team feedback exchange where every member gives and gets peer feedback. This is done by providing strictly behavioral feedback based on what they said, how they said it, or what they did. The kicker is that it is done publicly in front of the entire group.
  • Accountability conversations. This process assists the team in remaining self-aware by deliberately re-evaluating and regular intervals to ensure team members remain accountable for their commitments.

Teams are capable of doing great things. In fact, the most important developments throughout history have been accomplished not by individuals by people in groups. People working together effectively can be truly greater than those of individuals working independently.

In the same way self-aware leaders are more effective, so too are self-aware teams. Using the three building blocks as a model for how to strengthen the self-awareness of your team can lead to a stronger, more effective and more fulfilling group to be a part of.  

Authoritarian vs. Authoritative Leadership

July 30, 2019

Leadership among other things is the power or ability to lead others. It is also about setting a direction and inspiring others to accomplish goals. Perhaps the word “inspiring” is the difference between those who operate from an authoritarian vs. authoritative leadership perspective.

Though they may sound similar, authoritarian and authoritative leadership styles vary greatly. While authoritarian leaders essentially operate from a “do as I do” perspective, authoritative leaders operate from “come with me” perspective. The first is more command and control and the other is let’s do this together.

Authoritarian leaders are most often found in military, street gangs and the mafia. We can also find them in politics (Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump) and in business (Roger Ailes, Martha Stewart, Donald Trump). As you can see by the (in)famous names, authoritarian leaders can be very successful.

The authoritarian or coercive leader uses an extreme top-down decision-making style, which can leave those being led feeling disrespected and without a clear sense of ownership or accountability for their performance. This leadership style should be used sparingly—perhaps only when the figurative ship is sinking and requires extreme measures.

Meanwhile, the authoritative leader fosters a culture that is more collaborative and affirms each team member’s importance to the work being done. This encourages people to invest in the long-term prosperity of the organization. It is a more aspirational approach and produces the kind of success that builds on itself over time.

While the authoritarian leader uses fear, force or coercion, the authoritative leader attracts followers based on their knowledge, wisdom and experience. Let’s look at each in more detail:

Authoritarian Leaders

Authoritarian leaders typically make choices based on their own ideas and rarely accept advice from others. And because the people they lead are unable to contribute their own ideas, they often feel that their knowledge and expertise are undervalued. This can result in disengagement among individuals and a lack of creative solutions for the entire group.

The authoritarian leadership style may be beneficial in certain situations, however, where decisions need to be made quickly and the leader is the most knowledgeable person to make those decisions. If the ship is literally sinking, you don’t have time to call a meeting to collaboratively determine how best to save the people on the ship.

However, most of the time, the ship isn’t sinking and the authoritarian leader, rather than inspiring people to deliver their best instead drives them away either by belittling, blaming or simply ignoring their input. This is harmful to both individuals as well as the organization.

Authoritative Leaders

The authoritative leader engages the energy of individuals to accomplish organizational goals and readily admit that they don’t have all the answers. They point the direction of what needs to be achieved and trusts the individuals to join him or her to collectively determine the best approach for getting there. In this way, authoritative leaders inspire enthusiasm and build the confidence of the entire team.

In his data analysis, author Daniel Goleman found that authoritative leaders are far and away the most effective leaders for long-lasting prosperity and success.

Goleman suggests the authoritative leadership style is most effective in situations where the company seems to be drifting aimlessly. For example, when the overall strategy is no longer clear to everyone. This is when the authoritative leader can demonstrate strength and courage to communicate a way forward.

According to Goleman, the authoritative leader motivates people by making it clear to them how their work fits into a larger vision for the organization. The standards for success are clear and people are given the freedom to innovate, experiment and take calculated risks.

This authoritative style tends to work well in many business situations, but it can fail when a team consists of experts or peers more experienced than the leader. While the leader needs to have the experience and aptitude to see the larger picture, he or she does not need to be (or pretend to be) an expert at every aspect of the challenge before them.

The authoritative leadership style can be very effective in business. Though there has been a rise in authoritarian leaders on the political front around the world, business leaders would be wise to embrace the virtues of the authoritative style in this age of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

Success: More than Ability & Effort

July 12, 2019

Reaching success in life requires many things, such as ability, effort, chance and other people. While many successful people stress the first two, it’s important to recognize and appreciate the role chance and other people have on our individual success.

No matter how you define success, it requires a certain amount of ability and effort on your part. This often means working hard to gain the right level of education and experience in order to be successful in your chosen field. Though I won’t focus on these things here, where you grew up, the color of your skin and whether your parents are successful will also play a part in helping determine whether or not you achieve success.

But dumb luck and the assistance of other people certainly play a role as well.

Role of Chance

The economist Robert Frank used computer simulations to examine the role of ability, effort and chance in driving success. His computer simulation started with the assumption that ability and effort together explained 98 percent of outcomes and chance explained only 2 percent. Most of the “winners” of those simulations generally had high ability and effort scores. Something counter-intuitive happened as the simulation became more competitive, however.

At the highest levels of competition, everyone has high levels of ability and effort. But what differentiates the very successful from the moderately successful is chance.

And the higher up the ladder you go, the more your success is influenced by chance, in addition to your abilities and effort. Reminding yourself of this good fortune and dumb luck is a powerful way to combat a sense of entitlement that so often comes with success. This may also keep you humble, which is a very important leadership quality.

Role of Other People

No matter how much ability, effort and chance are involved in reaching success, every individual also relies on the assistance of other people. These people could be your parents and other family members, friends, teachers, colleagues, mentors, investors or any number of people who invest time, instruction, wisdom, mentoring, money and other support in you.

The aspen tree can be an excellent metaphor for a successful person. Not only due to the majesty of it above ground, but also because of how it is connected below. Each individual tree is part of an enormous root system making up one giant plant. In fact, the aspen tree is one of the largest living organisms in the world. Pando is a single grove of aspen in Utah spanning 106 acres and weighing an estimated 13 million pounds!

What lies under the ground is what makes the aspen tree so majestic above. In the same way, those people upon whose shoulders we stand are an important reason for our own success. Keeping this in mind enables us to remain empathetic toward others.

While individual effort and ability are absolutely necessary to succeed in life, don’t underestimate the importance of luck and your relationship with others. By recognizing the role of both chance and other people, you are more likely to hold on to your humility and empathy. And both are vital to great leadership.

Astronomical Compensation at the Top

June 21, 2019

What happens when one person in a company or on a team is significantly compensated far beyond everyone else? Perhaps a superstar athlete or outstanding CEO should be paid a lot because of what they deliver. But what level of compensation inequality is appropriate?

While the pay for athletes is very public, corporations try to shield the total compensation given to senior executives for good reason. But as you’ll see, that is changing.

In the NFL the more a team pays an elite quarterback, the less is available for the other 52 players due to the salary cap. Russell Wilson, quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks and now the highest compensated player in the league, will command just under 14% of the Seahawks’ salary cap. (No team has won the Super Bowl with more than 13.1% of the cap dedicated to one player.)  At $35 million, Wilson makes about 17 times as much as the average NFL player.

Research conducted in the United States and around the world indicates that people are generally unaware of just how unequal CEO pay is in most corporations.

In the US, for example, people say they estimate CEOs earn about 30 times the average worker. In reality, as of 2012, the average CEO earned $12.3 million. That’s about 350 times the average worker’s income of $35,000. Is the top executive at any company worth 350 times more than its average worker?

How much do CEOs contribute to the bottom line?

Management professor Markus Fitza sought to find out. In a comprehensive analysis of thousands of corporations over nearly two decades, he found that only about 5 percent of the performance differences between companies could be attributed to the CEO. Fitza estimated that in addition to uncontrollable elements, such as fluctuations in the economy, about 70 percent of a company’s performance—which the CEO normally gets credit or blame—is a matter of random chance.

Others analyzed the same data using different statistical methods and found that the CEO effect might be as high as 22 percent. Regardless of whether the number is 5 percent or 22 percent, it may be hard to accept that the CEO is really worth his or her salary.

What about the larger impact of income inequality?

According to Keith Payne, author of The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live and Die, those states and countries with greater levels of income inequality have much higher rates of the social and health maladies we associate with poverty, including lower than average life expectancies, serious health problems, mental illness and crime.

States like Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama have the highest levels of income inequality and rate weakest on the index of health and social problems. In contrast, New Hampshire, Utah and Iowa are the opposite.

On a global scale the United Kingdom, Portugal and United States have the highest level of income inequality and rate weakest on the index of health and social problems, while countries like Japan, Norway and Sweden have the lowest income inequality and rate best on the index of health and social problems.

“The inequality reflected in statistics like the Gini coefficient is driven almost entirely by how wealthy the rich are,” writes Payne. “If some economic genius were to come up with an innovation that doubled everyone’s income overnight, it would make the problems of inequality worse, not better as multiplying the income of millionaires would increase their wealth by a greater amount than doubling the income of someone earning $15,000 a year. Everyone would be wealthier, but inequality would grow that much more pronounced.”

About three-fourths of Americans believe CEO pay is too high, and nearly two-thirds believe it should be capped. And this is based on people believing CEOs were compensated 30 times as much as the average worker, not 350 times as much!

Beginning in 2015 corporations are required to publicly disclose the ratio of CEO pay to that of the average employee. Perhaps it’s too early to tell how much this more transparent dissemination of information will have on workers’ morale.

Research led by Bhavya Mohan found that when customers learn that a corporation has high inequality between the compensation for the CEO and average workers, they are willing to penalize the company by buying from a competitor with lower inequality.

Time will tell how this plays out and whether it results in average salaries rising to better offset CEO pay. Whether CEO salaries are capped, or corporations find a way to get astronomical pay more in-line with average workers, something needs to shift in order to reduce compensation inequality in the workplace.

How to Think Strategically

June 4, 2019

One  common growth opportunity many of my coaching clients face is the need to think more strategically. This is true not only for senior leaders, but also mid-level managers throughout the organization. But how do you think strategically?

No matter what your job title, taking the necessary time for strategic thinking flies in the face of near-term accomplishments. For example, the 43 emails you responded to, 12 phone calls you made, budget you finalized, presentation you prepared, or the many meetings you attended. Strategic thinking is not about the number of items checked off your to-do list.

It’s harder to measure in the near term because outcomes may take months, years or never actually come about. Nevertheless, it is absolutely necessary to take time for strategic thinking for your organization and for your career.

Strategic thinking can be generally defined as a mental or thinking process applied by individuals in the context of achieving a goal or set of goals.

Thinking strategically requires:

Notice & Seek Trends
To be strategic you need to gain a solid background and understanding of your organization, the industry it’s in, the competitive landscape, and the trends that are occurring. In this way you can provide a perspective from your area of expertise in the context of the larger organization and industry. Don’t underestimate your perspective as no one else has it and this can be consequential to important decisions being made.

Think Outside Your Silo
Thinking strategically requires that you think beyond your own department. By reaching beyond your direct scope of responsibilities, you are also likely to expand your area of influence. You will demonstrate great leadership by leading your department in service to the goals of the overall organization.

Divergent & Convergent
Use divergent thinking to imagine a future that diverges from convention and, at least temporarily, suspend your criticism and judgment. This provides the opportunity for brainstorming the wild and crazy that may ultimately provide novel solutions. Convergent thinking can then be used to narrow the options to one via deeper analysis, and ultimately choose the optimal way forward.

Nurture Peer Relationships
Focus on better understanding the challenges your peers are facing in their subject areas. The more you know what they are working on and what they are struggling with, the more you can work together to solve larger more complex issues. And the rapport you build with others will enable you to find further support in reaching goals.

Schedule & Remain Disciplined
It’s vital that you schedule and protect time for strategic thinking. Use the Eisenhower box in order to separate the urgent from the important so you can fit it into your already filled schedule. Stop attending meetings that don’t absolutely require you to be there. Delegate wherever possible.

Create an Optimal Space
Find a location away from your office where you can minimize distractions and stimulate creative thinking. Use this time to reflect, ideate and dream, but not to produce anything tangible right away. Some may find it’s better to partner with a valued thought-partner to shake things up when necessary.

Resist the Guilt Feelings
Fight back any guilt in doing this as it may take some getting used to the idea that this time is actually beneficial. You may have little to show for it at first, but eventually you will get results. I suspect simply dedicating this time will increase your ability to reflect, and that alone can be extremely beneficial to thinking more strategically.

Taking the steps above can lead to you thinking more strategically, which will increase your overall leadership capacity. Resist the temptation to dabble in the practice now and then. Like a fitness program or meditation practice, positive results depend on your ability to stick with it and make it a consistent part of your job.

Self-Awareness in Leadership

April 25, 2019

The best leaders are self-aware. Are you?

Most of us tend to over-estimate how self-aware we actually are. In the same way 80% of drivers think of themselves as above average, 95% of people say they are self-aware. Yet, according to a five-year research program, only 10% to 15% of people are considered self-aware.

When it comes to leaders and self-awareness, some research suggests that the higher you ascend, the less self-aware you become. This means it’s very important to monitor how self-aware you are as you progress throughout your career.

How do you know whether you or someone you know is self-aware? Here are the consistent behaviors of people who are not self-aware:

  • They won’t listen to, or accept, critical feedback.
  • They cannot empathize with, or take the perspective of, others.
  • They have difficulty “reading a room” and tailoring their message to their audience.
  • They possess an inflated opinion of their contributions and performance.
  • They are hurtful to others without realizing it.
  • They take credit for successes and blame others for failures.

Self-awareness means you have a sound understanding of who you are as a person and how you relate to the world in which you live. You know your strengths and weaknesses, and you know how to manage them in the workplace. You can manage your emotions, and the more you pay attention to them, the better you understand why you do the things the way you do. This is critical to self-leadership.

According to organizational psychologist and executive coach Dr. Tasha Eurich, research has found that when we are able to see ourselves clearly, we are more confident and creative, able to make better decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. All of which are important to effective leadership.

Of course, most of us are not entirely self-aware or unself-aware, but somewhere in the middle. This means we are likely to be more developed internally or externally. To find out, you can take a self-awareness Insight Quiz here.

Internal and External Self-Awareness

Eurich separates self-awareness into two broad categories: internal and external. Internal self-awareness is how clear we can see our values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment and reactions—including our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths and weaknesses. It also represents the impact we have on others. This internal perspective is associated with higher satisfaction in both our relationships, on the job and overall happiness.

External self-awareness is how other people view us in terms of those same factors. Research shows that people who know how others see them are more skilled at showing empathy and taking others’ perspectives. When leaders are able see themselves as their employees do, the employees tend to have a better relationship with them, feel more satisfied with them, and see them as more effective in general.

Eurich’s research reveals that there is basically no relationship between internal and external self-awareness—just because you may be high on one doesn’t mean you will be high on the other. Developing both your internal and external self-awareness are equally important.

Increasing your self-awareness requires that you accurately see yourself for who you are, and this requires breaking through preconceived notions of what may be your aspirational self to reveal your imperfect self. It means identifying what you see and accepting it. With this knowledge and acceptance then comes the ability to leverage it and propel your leadership growth.

Seeing ourselves for who we really are requires humility and vulnerability. Accepting what we see and choosing to increase our self-awareness takes courage and discipline. And the effort will pay off as you increase your overall leadership capacity.

Real Leadership in a Time of Crisis

March 20, 2019

Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand, is demonstrating what real leaders do in a time of crisis. The deadly attack on two mosques that left 50 people dead last week in Christchurch was a horrendous example of the rise of terrorism—specifically white supremacism—around the world. And Ardern is responding in a way that serves as a role model for real leadership.

Though she has been in office less than 18 months and earned mixed reviews over how she’s handled the job overall, on crisis management, Ardern is demonstrating great leadership.

The 38-year-old came into office as part of a wave of progressive, young leaders that include France’s Emmanuel Macron and Canada’s Justin Trudeau. The Jacindamania surrounding her political rise inspired New Zealand’s people to participate politically and follow her lead as citizens.

“Ms. Ardern is emerging as the definitive progressive antithesis to the crowded field of right-wing strongmen like President Trump, Viktor Orban of Hungary and Narendra Modi of India, whose careers thrive on illiberal, anti-Muslim rhetoric,” wrote journalist Sushil Aaron in the New York Times op-ed Why Jacinda Ardern Matters.

Her courage played out immediately by standing up to the hateful act in a way seldom seen by many of our current world leaders. She took an important stand in refusing to mention the shooter’s name and deny him the very recognition he sought from this despicable act. Surprisingly, much of the media has followed her lead.

With just 5 million citizens, today nearly one in four Kiwis own a gun. That could change as early as next week when Ardern is expected to unveil proposals to reform gun laws in response to the attack. Though the country doesn’t have the equivalent of a Second Amendment protecting gun rights nor a National Rifle Association lobby for them, she is not backing down to the likely opposition she will face.

In a news conference she said the attack had not happened because their country was a safe harbor for hate, or racism or extremism.

“We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of those things,” she said. “Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion. A home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who need it. And those values will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.”

She demonstrated compassion not only in her statements but in her actions, such as wearing a black scarf when she comforted families of the victims—despite the negative reaction from many Western countries regarding Muslim women’s headgear.

Ardern said President Trump called to offer condolences and asked what support the United States could offer New Zealand.

“Sympathy and love for all Muslim communities,” she told him. Ardern recognizes that thoughts and prayers will do her country nothing more than it does in the United States after a mass shooting.

This young leader from a tiny country in the South Pacific is demonstrating the kind of courageous and compassionate leadership that is necessary in both business and politics. Will Kiwis respond by adopting gun regulations to prevent further tragedies? Will people around the world respond by demonstrating compassion and respect for those of the Muslim faith?

Ardern is combating bigotry and hatred that requires more than greater gun regulation and law enforcement. She is also focusing on addressing the cultural change necessary to confront our social divisions. And this will take time and patience.

Let’s demand the kind of courage and compassion Ardern is modelling from all our leaders in business and politics.

Saving the Planet Through Behavioral Change

March 7, 2019

Changing one’s behavior is hard and it is often necessary. This is true whether you want to become a more effective leader or help save the planet. But before you take action, you must first answer the questions: what, why and how.

In my line of work as an executive coach, I help clients tweak certain behaviors that may undermine their overall effectiveness. This requires identifying what those behaviors are, why it is important to change them, and finally provide guidance on how to change them.

Determining what behaviors are holding people back is often revealed through 360 feedback surveys or interviews and using cognitive assessments. Once clients understand what it is that’s holding them back, they can begin to address it.

Explaining the why change is necessary is vitally important, since people often get entrenched in their behaviors and may defend them as “that’s just the way I am.” However, as Marshall Goldsmith states in the title of his best-selling book, what got you here, won’t get you there. Fully embracing why certain behaviors are hampering overall leadership is the most critical element in someone accepting and following through on implementing the change that is necessary.

When I think about what’s holding back necessary behavioral change needed to tackle climate change, so much of this is wrapped around the lack of a compelling answer to why. And people need a compelling reason to change behaviors.

The what question is continually answered all around us, although I fully acknowledge many skeptics remain. Perhaps a compelling answer to why will never convince some of them.

However, the reason most people have not yet accepted why it’s important to act on climate change is because any discussion tends to focus on the how rather than the why. Corporations claim that the regulation necessary to reduce carbon will strangle their profitability and require higher prices on consumers. Politicians (influenced by special interests and their lobbyists) are concerned with this and, of course, any notion that it will cost jobs.

Until someone is able to convincingly explain why it is important for us to act on climate change now in a way that motivates and inspires the majority of citizens, little progress will be made. This is especially challenging because, like the proverbial frog in a pot of water set to boil, we won’t see the urgency until it may be too late.

Organizations that clearly articulate a why that resonates have the potential to inspire employees to give their best, customers to purchase products and services, and shareholders to invest, according to Simon Sinek in his book Start with Why. Think of companies like Apple, Southwest Airlines and Harley-Davidson—all three have a compelling why.

When global citizens are presented with a compelling answer for why we should act on climate change now, we can then shift to how this can be accomplished most effectively. This how will require behavioral changes such as consuming less, recycling more, choosing clean energy alternatives over fossil fuels, holding elected politicians accountable, and many more.

Of course, individual actions by citizens of the world won’t make much of a dent in the challenge of climate change until government policies and corporate actions are aligned with these efforts. But governments and corporations rely upon voters and consumers, and we as individuals can influence their actions through our votes and our consumption.

When you understand what needs to change, have a compelling why it’s necessary, and see how to do it, behavioral change can happen. This is true in your growth as a leader or your help saving the planet.

Civility and Leadership Fundamentals

February 9, 2019

Despite the lack of civil discourse in these partisan times, we all have a choice as to how we show up in our communities and workplaces. We can either accept that this incivility is the new normal and that there’s nothing to be done, or we can actively behave in a more conciliatory and compassionate manner.

Leading with principals such as integrity, honesty, compassion, courage, accountability and vulnerability is unfortunately absent in many of our current leaders in both business and politics.

But this doesn’t mean we have to follow their example. Instead, we can choose to model the behaviors we expect in them and hold them accountable to follow our lead. To paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, be the change you wish to see in others.

Regardless of where you’re situated in the org chart of your organization, you can demonstrate leadership fundamentals. This has nothing to do with the number of people reporting to you or the number of followers you have. Leaders are found throughout our communities and workplaces, though they may not appear so on the surface.

Real leaders are the people who bring about the best in others. They motivate and inspire others. They bring about positive change. They hold themselves accountable. And they grow other leaders.

When you model these leadership fundamentals in your community or workplace, you will be seen as someone who is respected and can be relied upon. You will be seen as a real leader and not someone who was merely hired, promoted or voted into such a position. Real leadership is not appointed but earned.

You can also choose to hold accountable those leaders who have been hired, promoted or voted into such a position. This means deliberately choosing to work only for leaders you admire and respect. It means actively supporting and promoting the real leaders into acknowledged positions of authority. And it means actively supporting and voting for only the candidates who demonstrate the leadership fundamentals that you believe in.

Sitting on the sidelines, playing the victim, or remaining apathetic is not acceptable. If you are unhappy with your situation in your community or workplace, it is up to you to do something about it. A passive approach results in the status quo.

If you could only take one step today, I urge you to learn to be kinder and more compassionate to other people. It takes very little to do this, and you will be part of the change I suspect you wish to see in the world. This can be as little as:

  • Use a turn signal well before you reach the intersection where you intend to turn.
  • Hold the door open for the person behind you when entering a building.
  • Have a meaningful face-to-face conversation rather than merely a text exchange.
  • Assume the best when you receive an email message that could be perceived otherwise.
  • Look up from your phone, take out your earbuds, and make eye contact.
  • Listen to others with your full and undivided attention in order to be fully present.

These small steps will slowly help return civility to our society and will reflect well on you. I suspect you also begin to feel better about yourself as you become more active in helping to bring about the positive change you want to see in others.

When you model respectful civil discourse and leadership fundamentals in your own behavior, you are more likely to encourage others to do so. You are more likely be respected and seen as a real leader. And you will be a part of the solution rather than a continuation of the problem.